Life struck me as several cuts above “meh” but never made me jump out of my seat.
Editor's note: You see before you a list of lists, compiling Best of 2013 roundups by RogerEbert.com's contributors. Most are numerically ranked, some aren't. Some include commentary; others provide none, or link to reviews or blog posts at RogerEbert.com and other sites. Most lists are theatrical film-only, but there are a couple of TV lists in here, too.
Some regulars declined to provide Top 10 lists; in most cases this was because they felt they hadn't seen enough movies to pass judgment on the whole year, or because they hadn't yet seen certain highly-touted year-end films. So check back in later; we might update this post with new entries.
We encourage readers to second guess, quibble, argue, and post their own lists in the comments section. Thanks for reading RogerEbert.com, and Happy New Year!-—Matt Zoller Seitz
1) "The Consequences of Love"
2) "Night Across the Street"
3) "Upstream Color"
4) "Inside Llewyn Davis"
5) "Wolf of Wall Street"
6) "At Berkeley"
7) "The World's End"
8) "Golden Slumbers"
The list below was slightly different when I first posted it on Facebook. "Museum Hours," a wonderful picture, was included, but a recent rewatch confirmed a mild suspicion that it might well be trying too hard. It is, and there's nothing wrong with that, but the film that replaced it—the Edgar Wright, which also strives for effect—combines that directorial excitement with a fitting theme.
As I am in Istanbul, a number of films have yet to open here which might otherwise have made their way on this list.
1) "To the Wonder"
2) "Inside Llewyn Davis"
3) "The Act of Killing"
4) "The Great Beauty"
5) "I'm So Excited"
6) "The World's End"
7) "Like Someone in Love"
8) "Upstream Color"
9) "Something in the Air"
1) "Paradise: Love" Love and happiness, always just out of reach. Filmmaker Ulrich Seidl is a romantic realist. He puts something like reality in a balanced frame, under natural light. Sad beauty ensues. Critics who can watch ruthless meth dealers and entrail-munching zombies all day recoil at the sight of this film's chubby, middle aged tourist yearning for affection in poorest Africa. She's lovely, you unseeing Karl Lagerfelds! She's terrible. She's you!
2) "Blue Is the Warmest Color" First love, finger licking good. But that's not all: This movie's love affair/coming-out/coming-of-age saga has a rich backdrop that describes the world of children, teens, adults, school, work and play in the warmest colors. It's a big tent. Francois Truffaut and John Cassavetes would blush at the pornographic stuff while recognizing the rest of the movie as the humanist neighborhood they played in.
3) "Drug War" Hong Kong director Johnnie To should next work with soul genius Janelle Monae. Monae gliding across a stage in saddle shoes and pompadour, singing of the apocalypse, reminds me of this police procedural's absurd elegance and bug-eyed fury. And like that American singer, he finds a way of sneaking subversive content in past cultural gatekeepers: This is To's first movie made entirely under mainland China's auspices, and it is chaste, blunt and impersonal on the surface while his camera dances as deliriously as it did in personal films like "The Exiled." As if written by the Chinese censors themselves, the criminals are all imbeciles or cutthroats while the cops are incorruptible, brilliant and tireless—with both sides committed to their roles to a psychotic, suicidal extent. Never mind about "Pacific Rim". This is the year's great monsters (drug lords) versus robots (narcs) showdown.
4) "No" In style, strategy and concerns, this film is a distant, firebrand cousin of "Computer Chess." The vibrant 1980's nostalgia gets you in the door; the screenplay's raging debate about the best way to stage a pop culture revolution under a murderous regime keeps you locked in.
5) "12 Years a Slave" "There is nothing… to forgive." Every tribulation this film puts you through is worth that miracle ending.
6) "Narco Cultura" It's hard to see how amazing this film is if you regard its subjects as monsters in a foreign land rather than extremes of the warrior/gangster/thug mentality that polices and terrorizes every corner of the world.
7) "Blackfish" Roger once warned against the perils of confusing a movie's content with what it's about (hat tip to Keith Uhlich for the link). The film's content is "killer whales in captivity become killers indeed." What it's about amounts to the year's most incisive slavery film (SeaWorld as plantation) and hood movie (SeaWorld as whale ghetto). Not that this documentary explicates those points. It just weaves facts and perspectives that lead you in that direction, under a cloud of compassionate despair.
8) "The Act of Killing" See also #6. When Indonesian mass murderer Anwar Congo says, "There are men like me all over the world" after describing how the thug life seduced him as a teenager, it's not a scary thought so much as desperately sad truth.
9) "Computer Chess" Flawless, ingenious, hilarious faux time capsule from 1980. The Academy Awards mean zip to me, but they will mean less than zip if this film isn't nominated for Best Cinematography and Best Original Screenplay.
10) "Lore" Just as the content of "12 Years a Slave" (American slavery) illuminates what it's about (complacency, identity, compassion, exploitation and economies as blind, unstoppable machines), the particulars of "Lore" (Nazis on the run at the end of World War II) might obscure or intensify its message about living in a bubble amid the suffering of others. That depends on the viewer. For me, this movie comes to mind every time I hear about another batch of innocent civilians our aerial drones have incinerated.
1) "The Wolf Of Wall Street" (Review at my blog)
2) "The Unspeakable Act" (Review at Movie Mezzanine)
3) "12 Years a Slave" (Short review at Letterboxd)
4) "Museum Hours" (no review)
6) "Behind The Candelabra" (no review)
7) "Drug War" (Short review at Letterboxd)
1) "Inside Llewyn Davis"
2) "12 Years a Slave"
3) "Lee Daniels' The Butler"
4) "Before Midnight"
5) "Enough Said"
6) "Computer Chess"
8) "August: Osage County"
10) "The Bling Ring"
Honorable Mentions: "Behind the Candelabra" "Six by Sondheim", both for HBO
1) "Stories We Tell"
2) "Inside Llewyn Davis"
3) "Vivan las Antipodas"
5) "This Ain't California"
6) "12 Years a Slave"
7) "Cutie and the Boxer"
8) "Mr. Nobody"
9) "Let the Fire Burn"
1) "12 Years a Slave"
3) "The Act of Killing"
4) "All Is Lost"
6) "The Past"
7) "The Great Beauty"
9) "Like Someone in Love"
10) "American Promise"
2) "Before Midnight"
4) "The Past"
5) "The Great Beauty"
6) "The Hunt"
7) "All Is Lost"
8) "Behind the Candelabra"
9) "Like Father, Like Son"
Top Ten Television Shows
As Badfinger crooned "guess that's all I have to say" over Walter White biting it alone and un-mourned, the male narcissist antihero craze died its long deserved death with him.
Both "Ray Donovan" (a handjob given by Hollywood to its misperceived importance) and "Low Winter Sun" tried to keep the trend moving; both limped to obscurity on low ratings. The chi-chi designer rub-outs of "Mob City" and the coming super-dark darkness of "True Detective"—tagline: "darkness becomes you"—will try to keep hard-guy nihilism perking, but the writing is on the wall: you want to get a quality job done these days, best give it to a woman. To support this thesis I offer you this Top 10.
More than weariness with a cluster of tropes, this year's femme take-over signals a global shift in assumed aesthetic core values. No longer can lazy producers count on the assumption of extreme violence perpetrated by telegenic sociopaths, wallpaper T&A and thematic nihilism as the triple A-rated currency of classic TV. What's working isn't only femme-centric, it's laced with a hot bouquet of newness. The suits must be going crazy.
"Orange is the New Black" With America boasting the highest incarceration rate in the world, it was inevitable that someone would see 'high concept' in those perp walks.
That "Orange is the New Black"'s first season would end up as one of the greatest TV shows in history was a disturbing thrill: between the weed wars and the NSA, who can't imagine, if only for a moment, suddenly being thrown in the hoosegow for, like, whatever reason? Even more transgressive was the question sandwiched into creator Jenji Kohan's "New Black." raison d'etre: who other than women could take the Kafkaesque dead zone of a US penitentiary and turn it into a semi-vibrant community?
"Masters of Sex" Yeah, yeah, yeah: some secondary characters are on the meh side. Sometimes the earnestness is too earnest. But most of the time, this is outstandingly unlikely, an American show doing sex like grown-ups or Europeans or something.
At its best, "Masters of Sex" observes and aches for the roles with which history chains its victims. The dyad of cold fish sex researcher manqué Dr. William Masters (Michael Sheen) and his nurturing, gently brass-balls assistant Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) is endlessly revealing of their characters and time. Beau Bridges' turns in career-best work as a closeted university provost while Allison Janney's sexually agonized wife is a show in and of itself. Appointment TV? Check the "Y" box.
"Enlightened" I gotta admit, the first season of Mike White's latest didn't fill me with big love. Featuring a corporate exec named Amy Jellicoe (Laura Dern) who goes spectacularly nuts, does a New Age rehab but afterwards can only get work in data entry, "Enlightened" felt like yet another show trashing mentally ill people as weirdo freak-jobs. As a bipolar person myself, you might say I took offense. But season two--another story. White and Dern whipped up the mystery mojo needed for Amy to go all "Norma Rae" on the evil corporation she once worked for and for the men in her orbit to expose their strange weaknesses and for "Enlightened to live up to its title. HBO promptly axed it, the most egregious show-kill since Fox whacked "Firefly."
"Top of the Lake" Written, produced and directed with shamanic intensity, hardboiled edge and not a few laffs by Jane Campion, "Top of the Lake" is about emotionally hermetic detective Robin Griffin (Elizabeth Moss) who's dispatched to a remote New Zealand town to investigate a possible pre-teen rape and attempted suicide. The ghosts of James Whale, Maya Deren and Peter Weir smoke a blunt as Griffen becomes a sort of spirit-hero in a town worm-squirming with self-laceration, incest, S&M, and the killer bogeyman of failing machismo. Campion's doesn't direct—she floats her camera across the alien New Zealand landscape and ecology-hardened faces. She deserves every Emmy she won't get.
"The Returned" Best high concept of the year: what if you finished with the grinding horror of grieving a beloved's death and then they showed up in your life again, and asking for somewhere to stay and a beer, even? What if it was your daughter? That's the quiet basis of Fabrice Gobert's meditative, zero-gore, très Val Lewton-y creepshow, wherein a group of the everyday dead show up in a small, somewhat cut-off French town. With elemental drones by post-rockers Mogwai, "The Returned." is so beautiful one only slowly realizes it constantly deals with terrifying things one spends one's life trying to avoid: not recommended for those with anxiety disorders.
"Elementary" What a lame idea, plucking Sherlock Holmes out of Downing Street, dropping him in Brooklyn and teaming him up with an ooh-la-la Asian 'sober companion'. Except the showrunner is "Star Trek: Voyager"'s Robert Doherty, the style a rejection of long-arc-ism in favor of a stealthy accumulation of dark places that made "Voyager" such grand "Trek." Jonny Lee Miller's Holmes and Lucy Liu's Joan Watson forge a deep friendship built respectively on terminal guilt and intransigent shame. Easily the finest network effort.
"Broadchurch" A kid's killed in a seaside town. The local cop (Olivia Coleman) and a self-despising city cop (David Tenant) are forced to team up; secrets and lies tear everything to shit and really, how many times have you heard this tune? Answer: Not with near-microscopic dramaturgical precision and performances that seem to boil up from terrible places in real time every week.
"Breaking Bad" Really, what to say that's not been said by a million mouths? Okay--maybe this: There's a direct corollary between the show being an extremely well made, sickening guilty pleasure and it being a great show, period. And that differential was tied with the increase of screen time for Skyler White (Anna Gunn). Without Skyler, Walter is just another small man who thinks he's a big deal when he finds that in a godless universe nothing happens when you sin big. With Skyler, his moral compass gains a knife edge: playing Scarface games isn't so fun when your wife can walk into a pool, pretend suicide, and without harming a soul, nearly destroy your entire sham. Now that's power. No wonder the boys watching hated her.
"Blue" (2013) Drenched in atmosphere and accuracy, Rodrigo García's Youtube special offers an America spiritually and financially crushed by the wolves of Wall Street. Julia Stiles plays a uselessly over-educated temp by day, sex worker whenever, mom always to a sexually questioning son always. Containing what may be the single most terrifying sexual assault sequence in TV history, and Stiles' silken bravura performance, "Blue" is also the rare show to get mental illness on the money. As for Garcia—auteur of the bafflingly under-worshipped "Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her" and "In Treatment" —he continues to buff a passionate minimalism unlike anything, anywhere. The reason his body of work continues to be ignored is a mystery.
"Orphan Black" Clones! Five of them, and all played by Tatiana Maslany, who in this energetic if somewhat rickety BBC sci-fi enterprise, became a household name--if only in the more special households-- playing all of them. Essentially a ten-episode backstory for whatever delights wait in season two, "Orphan Black." was as heavy on the pluck and sass as it was light on budget and, at times, making-sense. But who needs sense when you have even more Maslanys?
You can also find my list here.
1) "At Berkeley"
2) "The Wolf of Wall Street"
3) "Computer Chess"
4) "Spring Breakers"
6) "Frances Ha"
7) "Beyond the Hills"
8) "Inside Llewyn Davis"
9) "Blue Is the Warmest Color"
10) "12 Years a Slave"here.
1) "Inside Llewyn Davis" Or, "The Story of My Life, With Added Impregnation And Musical Talent". Reviewed here. More on this soon.
2) "Apres Mai" Or, "The Story of My Life, With Added Radical Politics, Frenchness, House Fires".
3) "The Wolf of Wall Street" More on this to come soon. One thing: it is really not a "GoodFellas" retread.
4) "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" Written about here.
5) "Upstream Color" Reviewed here. I was amused by the way some of the skeptics reacted to this: "Yes, we want more radical narrative cinema, but not this."
6) "Nebraska" One line: "No one around to whip me now, I guess." I'm paraphrasing. But that's the movie.
7) "The World's End" With "Inside Llewyn Davis", the most beautifully and audaciously constructed narrative mainstream picture of the year. And ceaselessly funny. Reviewed here.
8) "12 Years A Slave" Written about here.
9) "Post Tenebras Lux" As with "Upstream Color", this got a lot of "We want more films of personal vision, but not like this." Why not?
10) "Like Someone In Love" Reviewed here.
In no particular order. Find reviews on joyceschoices.com
"The Wolf of Wall Street"
"20 Feet from Stardom"
"Blue Is the Warmest Color"
"12 Years a Slave"
You can also find a video essay on my list here.
1) "Upstream Color"
2) "Night Across the Street"
3) "Drug War"
7) "Lee Daniels' The Butler"
8) "American Hustle"
9) "A Touch of Sin"
10) "Stories We Tell"
This is my favorite part of being a critic: the privilege of choosing the 10 best films of the year. In a year like 2013, it's incredibly hard to narrow it down to just 10. I probably could have picked 10 more, easily — but the internal debate is part of the fun. I hope you had the pleasure of seeing some of these films, as well. And I'd love to hear what you'd choose as your favorites.
1) "Gravity" Visually dazzling and emotionally gripping, "Gravity" held me in its spell for 90 breathtaking minutes. I still don't know how Alfonso Cuaron made this movie — how he made us feel as if we were actually watching Sandra Bullock and George Clooney struggle for survival in space. But man, is this an astounding achievement on all levels, from the performances to the editing to the precise tone, one that had me on the verge of tears much of the time. (And you guys know what a big deal that is, given how cold-hearted and soulless I am.) Read my review
2) "American Hustle" Sexy, exciting and hilarious, "American Hustle" is a complete blast. David O. Russell out-Scorseses Martin Scorsese himself with this swaggering story of con artists and corruption. At first it feels as if he's taken his A-list cast — including Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence — to the Goodwill store to find the grooviest '70s duds possible for an elaborate game of dress-up. But the clothes are a reflection of his characters' desperation as they strive for the American dream. Read my review here.
3) "Her" Just completely lovely from start to finish. Spike Jonze's film features some of the fantastical notions that are his trademark, but it's also the most grounded in reality of all the movies he's made, which gives it an emotional immediacy. Joaquin Phoenix plays perhaps his most regular-guy character yet as a recently divorced man in a near-future Los Angeles who finds new love … with his operating system. Scarlett Johansson is called upon to create a complete character with only her voice, and does so with great richness and humanity. Watch my review here.
4) "Stories We Tell" A total original. Sarah Polley's film repeatedly astonishes, inspiring us to rethink not just the documentary format but also the way we recall events from our own lives. In interviewing members of her family about their history, she mixes memory, photographs, archival footage and reenactments. The result is a hazy, shared truth, one that's at once personal and universal. At just 34 and with only her third film, Polley has established herself as an artistic master. Read my review here.
5) "Upstream Color" Shane Carruth's film is a hypnotic sensory experience — a bold, challenging experiment like nothing else I saw all year. It's a capital-A art house film with a mesmerizing use of imagery; as writer, director, composer, editor and star, Carruth throws us in at the deep end and makes us work. But at its core is the wrenching tale of two lost souls, with Amy Seimetz giving a brave supporting performance as Carruth's counterpart. Read my review here.
6) "The Spectacular Now" Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley give beautifully nuanced performances in this authentic and honest look at teen romance. Teller is the hard-partying popular kid; Woodley is studious and shy. They wouldn't seem to belong together but bring out the best in each other. Through long, intimate takes, director James Ponsoldt lets their relationship unfurl in charming, organic fashion, but he also isn't afraid to make some tough choices with his characters. Watch my review here.
7) "Nebraska" Alexander Payne rips the lid off the mythology of the Midwest in this hilarious and poignant father-son road trip. Bruce Dern gives an effortless, unadorned performance as an alcohol-addled Korean War veteran who believes he's won a million-dollar prize and insists on making the 900-mile trek to collect it in person. Will Forte and June Squibb are among the inspired supporting cast, and the stark black-and-white cinematography gives everything a bleakly beautiful sheen. Read my review here.
8) "Frances Ha" Greta Gerwig absolutely charms in a role that's tailor-made for her naturalistic screen presence. As a 20something wandering around New York City in search of a career, a purpose, an identity, she's sweet, funny, cringe-inducing and heartbreaking. Noah Baumbach's film borrows affectionately from both 1970s Woody Allen and the French New Wave while achieving a timelessness and a universality all its own. Read a piece I wrote on the film here.
9) "Short Term 12" This drama set in a foster-care center for at-risk teens could have been painfully mawkish. Instead, it sneaks up on you with its understated honesty and unexpected dark humor. Writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton's film is brimming with originality, and it provide a long-overdue leading role for the lovely Brie Larson as a counselor who finds herself in flux. Read my review here.
10) "The World's End" This blisteringly profane send-up of sci-fi apocalypse extravaganzas provided the most fun I had at the movies all year. The third genre tweak from director Edgar Wright and co-stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost is simultaneously their most ambitious and their most effective. Their epic pub crawl is full of absurd humor and rapid-fire dialogue but also has something to say about the dangerous tug of nostalgia. Read y review here.
"12 Years a Slave" Read my review here.
"20 Feet From Stardom" Read my review here.
"The Act of Killing"
"All Is Lost" Read my review here.
"Fruitvale Station" Read my review here.
"The Great Beauty"
"Inside Llewyn Davis"
"The Wind Rises"
"The Wolf of Wall Street"
1) "Nebraska" For showcasing the aesthetics of the heartland (surprisingly beautiful landscapes, elegiac if fallow cornfields), upholding its values of loyalty and honesty as well. What made movies of the 1940s and 1950s great.
2) "American Hustle" Consistently entertaining and giddy comedy of manners, even more than a crime caper (though that's there too). The acting takes you over the moon.
3) "The Act of Killing" Settling once and for all if re-enactment should be in the documentary. Indonesian death squad leaders recall their crimes of more than fifty years ago, mixing their reality and fantasy as skillfully (if chillingly) as the film blends documentary and fiction.
4) "Blue Is the Warmest Color" A delicate tale of moral education in the context of culture clash. Sex aside (on view a lot of places these days), it's a love story that happens to be about two women. Jane Austen's Emma with mutual cunnilingus.
5) "Inside Llewyn Davis" A period piece that perfectly evokes the narcissism and the idealism of the early sixties. The Coen Brothers make an unlikeable hero rather appealing.
6) "Lee Daniels' The Butler" Director Lee Daniels' take on the last half of the 20th Century, the struggle of African-Americans within and outside the system, and a moving story of family all the way around. Turns by Oprah Winfrey and Forest Whitaker are not to be missed, nor is a cameo by Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan.
7) "20 Feet From Stardom" Girl Group back-up talent galore, intriguing tales of lost and found opportunities, and how personality figures in. The tunes make you dance out of your seat.
8) "The Hunt" A subtle, highly moving story of mass hysteria and sexual accusation. Mads Mikkelsen is the accused, and his life will never be the same once this particular genie escaped the bottle. The little girl, Klara (Annika Wedderkopp) is extraordinary.
9) "Hannah Arendt" A woman's movie, a historical record, and a look at the most heinous crime of the last century, the Holocaust, as encapsulated in the trial of Adolf Eichmann. Did we mention great acting (Barbara Sukowa) and directing (Margarethe von Trotta)? See my review May 29, 2013 in the Village Voice.
10) "Blue Jasmine" Woody Allen explains how even the greedy one per centers were hurt by the recent financial debacle caused by Wall Street. He has terrific help with Cate Blanchett as the formerly pampered Jasmine, and a marvelous supporting cast including Alec Baldwin.
Honorable mentions: A tie between fiction film "The Attack" and documentary "Stories We Tell." The first one for showing a side of the Israeli-Arab conflict we don't usually see, and the second for presenting so many facets to family stories that the "truth" remains elusive.
Most over-rated: "Upstream Color." Disjointed for no good reason, it's most deflinitely not our age's "Hiroshima Mon Amour." Critics were taken in by the great visuals, but there's no vision there, "the future" notwithstanding.
Best re-make: "We Are What We Are" A re-telling of the 2010 Mexican horror film "Somos lo Que Hoy," but with two young women as the leads, and here directed by Jim Mickle. See my review in Film Journal International.
Most unpredictable film festival: CPH: DOX, devoted to the most "out there" and experimental documentary films, held every November in Copenhagen. See my overview in Documentary Magazine.
Read more here.
"Inside Llewyn Davis"
"The Kings of Summer"
"The Way Way Back"
"The Wolf of Wall Street"
"20 Feet from Stardom" / "Muscle Shoals"
"12 Years a Slave"
Honorable mention: "Before Midnight," "Museum Hours," "In a World…," "Frozen," "The Spectacular Now," "Her," "Much Ado About Nothing," "Short Term 12," "Don Jon," "Fruitvale Station," "Enough Said," "Upside Down," "Philomena," "56 Up," "The World's End," "Still Mine," "Rush," "What Maisie Knew"
"12 Years a Slave" The conversations on Slavery will overshadow the brilliant construction of each scene. This is not a bad thing.
"Dirty Wars" The War on Terror continues to avalanche far off the rails, contributing to the world's chaos, rather than stopping it.
"Fruitvale Station" A sledgehammer to the heart.
"Gravity" Many films teach, "Never give up." This film asks, "You've been through so much, so why give up now?" One of only a handful of films this year truly made for the big screen.
"Mud" Jeff Nichols just gets better and better.
"No" Profound story of the American marketing techniques used to overthrow the American installed dictator, Augusto Pinochet.
"A Place at the Table" American hunger is a plague caused by policy, and can be cured by policy. I hope this film becomes irrelevant.
"The Purge" A most underrated mixture of horror and social commentary. Ghosts don't scare me as much as rich people dressed with ties and hatchets.
"These Birds Walk" A quiet, small portrait of Pakistan's little people, living under the care of Pakistan's loving giant, Abdus Sattar Edhi.
"Wadjda" Will be promoted as a criticism of Saudi Arabian patriarchy, though it is actually a comment on the selective, inconsistent use of culture, theology, and power by everyone, including Wadjda herself.
1) "Much Ado About Nothing"
2) "Upstream Color"
3) "Everybody in Our Family"
4) "The Unspeakable Act" (My review is here.)
5) "This Is the End"
6) "A Hijacking" (My review is here.)
7) "Caesar Must Die"
8) "The We and the I"
9) "20 Feet from Stardom"
"Post Tenebras Lux"
"Frances Ha" My review is here.
"Inside Llewyn Davis" My review is here.
"Much Ado About Nothing" My review is here.
"Beyond the Hills" My review is here.
"Blue Is the Warmest Color" My review is here.
"Pain & Gain"
"The Bling Ring"
"The Selfish Giant" In a packed slate of tension-filled films this year, Clio Barnard's sophomore feature left me utterly gripped with its tale of two young boys in Northern England forced into the metal scavenging trade. A constantly surprising blend of social realism and mythology from Barnard—who last gave us the genre-hopping documentary "The Arbor"—it also features two incredible child performances from
"The Great Beauty" The natural ending points of scenes and beats come and pass in Sorrentino's decadent and unruly look at Rome's fading high-rollers, but amazingly I rarely felt the urge to argue against the film's intoxicating atmosphere. Legendary actor Toni Servillo grounds the narrative entirely with a performance by turns droll and energetic, and while the film wanders around every corner, it always leads somewhere fascinating.
"Her" The relieved sigh of seeing a concept fully realized accompanies "Her", as Spike Jonze continues his streak of personal, audacious films by making a futuristic courtship between man (Joaquin Phoenix) and Scarlett Johansson-voiced machine touching, hilarious, and lovingly rendered. It also includes my favorite Amy Adams performance of this year—a wonderfully low-key counterpart to her wilder, more calculating role in "American Hustle."
"Gravity" Forget the anxiety over how "Gravity" will translate to a home viewing setting, and instead keep to the guiding principle of the film itself: a full immersion into sustained action, and a dazzling one at that. Alfonso Cuaron's film is an encouraging example of near-blind studio risk-taking, a stunning showcase for Sandra Bullock's talents, and much more than just a financial and special effects landmark.
"The Crash Reel" As seen with her previous documentaries "Waste Land" and "Devil's Playground", director Lucy Walker has an immense skill for blending the macro and micro levels of any one subject; she replicates that success here with a look at snowboarder Kevin Pearce's recovery after a horrific TBI, combined with an inquiry into how extreme sports promote an ever-increasing cycle of injuries. Nowhere near just an average sports documentary, "The Crash Reel" was my most unexpected surprise of 2013)
"Upstream Color" Amy Seimetz impressed me tremendously in 2013: first with her directorial debut, "Sun Don't Shine", but also her performance in this, "Primer" director Shane Carruth's disorienting sci-fi romance about two traumatized people clinging on to one another for answers. The film presents a unique depiction of love—sometimes humorous, sometimes heartbreaking—as a symbiotic exchange of history and tics, and Seimetz and Carruth's dynamic explores this beautifully.
"The World's End" While still dense with the type of technical and textural details of the two other "Cornetto Trilogy" installments, the aspect of "The World's End" I look most forward to unpacking is the narrative sort. The film pulls off the enormous feat of delivering something new to fans—Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's dynamic swap with their deft performances—while covering familiar thematic ground of aging and maturity. It also layers in some rather incisive views on emotional and chemical dependence, and of course, remains wickedly funny as ever.
"After Tiller" Lana Wilson and Martha Shane focus on the continued and frustrating efforts of four U.S. doctors to practice late-term abortions, and they also crucially show us the conflicted women and couples seeking such a procedure. As they are filmed from the head down to obscure their identity, all we can do is listen to their words during counseling sessions: to the numerous, heartbreaking facets of their decision, stripped of any political rhetoric but clearly forced into agony by the issue's unending debate. An extremely powerful and insightful film.
"No" One of the boldest visual approaches this year—shot on Sony U-Matic video cameras to reflect its 1988 setting—Pablo Larrain's portrayal of an adman's unlikely contribution of humor and advertising grammar to bring down the dictatorship of Chile's Augusto Pinochet is satirical and moving in all the right ways.
"Something in the Air" Olivier Assayas probably deserved something of a breather after his gigantic 334-minute long miniseries "Carlos", which spanned decades, countries, and languages every other scene. But instead, he followed it up with an unashamedly nostalgic account of '60s student rebellion in Paris, filmmaking, and the numerous personalities that populated that time. Filled wall-to-wall with period soundtrack cuts from artists like Syd Barrett and Captain Beefheart and relaxed performances from a young cast including actress Lola Creton, I was swept along—similar to "The Great Beauty"—on Assayas' occasionally indulgent but ecstatic reflections.
1) "The Act of Killing"
2) "Fruitvale Station"
3) "12 Years a Slave"
4) "Upstream Color"
5) "Inside Llewyn Davis"
7) "The Wolf of Wall Street."
8) "The Spectacular Now"
9) "To the Wonder"
10) "Pacific Rim"
1. "Arrested Development"
3. "Breaking Bad"
4. "Boardwalk Empire"
5. "Game of Thrones"
6. "Orange is the New Black"
10. "The Americans"
"Blue Is the Warmest Color" Ever since making its debut at the Cannes Film Festival last spring, where it won the coveted Palme d'Or, this epic-length drama, loosely based on the semi-auto-biographical graphic novel by and chronicling a teenage girl (newcomer Adele Exarchopoulos) and the intense relationship that develops between her and a slightly older art student (Lea Seydoux) over the course of several years, has been one of the year's most controversial films—partly because of the explicit sex scenes and partly because the public war of words between Kechiche and his two stars (who wound up sharing the Palme with him, the first time that honor has ever been bestowed upon the actors of a winning film) that has continued on even after it went into general release. And yet, not only did it live up to all the hype, it exceeded it by giving moviegoers one of the most powerful and passionate cinematic experiences of recent times thanks to Kechiche's deft handling of tricky material and the career-making performances from the two leads. At three hours, some have complained that it goes on a little too long for its own good but I have to say that I have seen it three times now and have been absolutely spellbound each time. Even if you go to see it only for the aforementioned erotic material (which takes up maybe 12 minutes of screen time in total), be prepared to be equally mesmerized by everything else on display. Read my review here.
"Passion" Brian De Palma's remake of the 2010 French thriller "Love Crime"—detailing the increasingly brutal attempts by co-workers Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace to climb the corporate ladder—wass a sexy and stylish knockout of a film and his finest and most consistent work since his 2002 masterpiece "Femme Fatale." Darkly funny, breathlessly exciting and teasingly erotic in equal measure, this was the work of a master director firing on all cylinders and the end results put most other contemporary movies of its type to shame.
"The Wolf of Wall Street" If the mark of a truly significant artist is their ability to continually provoke and outrage viewers in their later years instead of falling into a complacent rut, then Scorsese once again proved himself to be a provocateur for the ages with this jaw-dropping, eye-popping depiction of the true story of a crafty little weasel (Leonardo Di Caprio in what now stands as the performance of his career) who created a billion dollar empire out of selling crappy penny stocks and subsequently rode it into the ground in a blaze of greed, hubris and more cocaine than "Scarface" and "Boogie Nights" combined. Breaking out of the stylistic confines of his last couple of films, Scorsese hit the ground running with a go-for-broke epic that ran for three breathlessly-paced hours, was horrifying and hilarious in equal measure (an extended sequence involving some old quaaludes, luncheon meat, a looming legal catastrophe and an old "Popeye" cartoon was a set-piece for the ages), was jam-packed with great performances across the board and which offered viewers the pleasure of seeing a top director working at the peak of his powers. Ignore the naysayers who have griped about its length, the excess that it unapologetically depicts and the lack of any overt moral statement about how Greed Is Bad (none of which would have made any sense since the film is seen entirely through the tunnel-visioned eyes of its anti-hero, a guy not known for self-reflection) and let them stick with the likes of the long-forgotten "Boiler Room"—this is another instant classic from one of our greatest living filmmakers.
"Her" The premise of this film—a romantic comedy-drama in which the lovers in question are a lonely and withdrawn man (Joaquin Phoenix) and his computer's new and highly advanced operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson)—was so inherently odd that it seemed impossible that it could ever work as anything other than an exceptionally absurd "SNL" sketch. However, the end result wass absolutely brilliant and always surprising thanks to Jonze's witty, touching and incisive screenplay and direction and the knockout performances from the two leads, who, against all odds, created one of the most fascinating on-screen couples in recent memory in a love story for the ages. Read my review here.
"Inside Llewyn Davis" The Coen Brothers have made a career out of delivering the unexpected with each one of their films but their latest work, set in the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early 1960's just before the arrival of Bob Dylan and focusing on a singer (Oscar Isaac) whose obvious talent is not enough to make up for his disastrous personal and professional lives, was one of their biggest curve balls to date. Instead of mocking the ultra-sincere scene or having fun with the age-old narrative of the brilliant-but-troubled artist, they instead cast a remarkably sincere eye on their hero and his plight, perhaps recognizing that artistic success has as much to do with luck and timing as it does with talent. What it did have in common with the Coens' previous work wass a gallery of great performances (Isaac's impressive turn is ably supported by the likes of Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, F. Murray Abraham and Coen fixture John Goodman), any number of great scenes (a bit where our hero visits his shabby record company is arguably the funniest of the lot) and a soundtrack that you will almost certainly be buying as soon as you leave the theatre. Read my review here.
"American Hustle" After trading in the anarchic brilliance of such earlier films as "Three Kings" and "I Heart Huckabees" for more conventional (though admittedly entertaining) material like "The Fighter" and "Silver Linings Playbook," Russell returned to form with this fast and funny comedy-drama that uses Abscam (that sting operation from the late 1970's in which the Feds employed con men to help entrap crooked politicians into taking bribes from phony sheiks) as a springboard for a more freewheeling character study focusing on a group of people for whom duplicity is of such second-nature to them that the very notion of someone who is entirely honest and upfront about who they are is enough to drive them to distraction. There were great performances across the board by Christian Bale (whose combover alone deserves some kind of award) and Amy Adams as the con artists, Bradley Cooper as the fed who is as tightly coiled as his perm and Jeremy Renner as a politician who falls into their trap out of a genuine desire to help his constituents but the whole thing was stolen outright by Jennifer Lawrence as Bale's wife, a live wire whose innately direct nature is enough to blow the entire deal in an instant, in what may be the best performance to date of her already incredible career. Read my review here.
"Before Midnight" Nine years older and somewhat wiser than when we last saw them, Celine and Jesse (Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke), who met in 1995's "Before Sunrise" and reunited in 2004's "Before Sunset," returned for another extended bout of talking about their hopes, fears and dreams, not to mention the increasingly complex nature of their relationship. Considering that the previous films in this loose trilogy were among the best screen romances (although they were more than just that) of recent times, it would seem almost impossible for a film to top them and yet this one managed to do just that thanks to beautifully fluid direction from Linklater (who also did the earlier films), a wonderfully smart and incisive screenplay and performances from Hawke and Delpy that were so convincing and deeply felt that they really and truly feel like a genuine couple going through the paces of the marriage. Read my review here.
"Gravity" After a summer in which one would-be blockbuster after another failed to inspire much enthusiasm, moviegoers were starving for something that reminded them of the genuine sense of magic that the cinema could inspire in the right hands and they got it with Cuaron's visually stunning and emotionally gripping thriller about a space mission that goes horribly wrong and leaves two astronauts (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney) floating in the cosmos with little chance of returning to Earth. From a technical standpoint, the film was one for the ages (this was one of those increasingly rare movies that cried out to be seen on the biggest screen possible and was even one of the few to make intelligent use of 3D technology) but what was even more surprising was how effective it was from a dramatic standpoint as well, thanks in no small part to the career-best work from Bullock and the deft use of Clooney's glib star quality to help orient viewers for what might have otherwise been an off-putting experience). Even better, its worldwide success at the box-office demonstrated that an ambitious and original work can be just as popular with the mainstream audience as just another remake or comic-book adaptation. Read my review here.
"The Bling Ring" For her latest masterpiece, writer-director Sofia Coppola recounted the true-life story of a group of spoiled and self-absorbed L.A. teenagers (including a never-better Emma Watson, Taissa Farmiga and striking newcomer Katie Chang) who broke into the homes of celebrities like Paris Hilton, Rachel Bilson and Orlando Bloom in order to steal clothes, money and other gaudy trinkets as a way of getting closer to the glamorous lives that they want for themselves. What made the film so brilliant and compelling despite its theoretically repellent cast of characters is that instead of going for cheap shots or silly attempts at psychological insight, Coppola simply observed them in ways that helped inspire a certain understanding into their mindsets and how they had been shaped and influenced by a celebrity-obsessed culture that overwhelms them on a daily basis. Read my review here.
"Bullet to the Head" The early part of 2013 was not a good time to be an aging action movie star as much-hyped titles like "The Last Ride" and "A Good Day to Die Hard" failed to attract much critical or commercial interest. One such film that did not deserve such an ignominious fate was this refreshingly straightforward Sylvester Stallone vehicle in which he plays a hitman who winds up teaming up with a young cop (Sung Kang) in order to bring down the corrupt businessman responsible for the death of his partner. It may not have sounded like much on the surface (another reason why it probably didn't do very well with audiences or most critics) but legendary director Hill (the man behind such classics as "The Warriors," "48 HRS" and "Streets of Fire") brought both his impeccable technical gifts and a genuine sense of personal style to the proceedings that elevated the material to something that came far closer to what one might refer to as "art" than one might rightly expect from a genre picture these days. Read my review here.
"The Act of Killing"
"The Wind Rises"
"Post Tenebras Lux"
"Inside Lewyn Davis"
"The Lone Ranger"
A few of these films have yet to be given proper US releases, as if an audience for them doesn't exist. This is tragic.
1) "The Immigrant"
2) "Inside Llewyn Davis"
3) "Dormant Beauty"
5) "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet"
6) "Computer Chess"
7) "The Wolf of Wall Street"
8) "12 Years a Slave"
9) "A Touch of Sin"
10) "A Field In England"
For an annotated list of Brian Tallerico's Top 10 films, click here.
1) "Before Midnight"
2) "Inside Llewyn Davis"
5) "Short Term 12"
6) "The Act of Killing"
7) "Upstream Color"
8) "The Wolf of Wall Street"
9) "The Wind Rises"
You can find Brian's annotated TV list and more here.
1) "Breaking Bad"
5) "The Returned"
6) "Orange is the New Black"
8) "Game of Thrones"
9) "Parks and Recreation"
10) "Boardwalk Empire"
1) "Inside Llewyn Davis" From Oscar Isaac's wonderful central performance to the music so beautifully curated by T. Bone Burnett, down to that infernal ginger cat, the Coen Brothers didn't miss a beat in this inspired, quirky, poignant look at the early Greenwich Village folk scene. Watch my video interviews with Oscar Isaac and Carey Mulligan here.
2) "American Hustle" Quite simply a perfect symphony of performances orchestrated by a director at the top of his game, David O. Russell.
3) "Her" While she never sang "Bicycle Built for Two" Scarlett Johansson's voice work in "Her" as the flirty OS is just as memorable as HAL in Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey", in Spike Jonze's hypnotic look at the not too distant and eerily possible future with a compelling performance by actor Joaquin Phoenix lonely for love in a disconnected connected world.
4) "Fruitvale Station" Ryan Coogler's stunning movie detailing the last day in the life of Oscar Grant who was fatally shot by a BART police officer in the early hours of New Year's Day 2009 was not only an amazing directorial debut, but one of the most riveting and emotional films of the year. Watch my video interviews with Ryan Coogler, and the film's stars, Michael B.Jordan, Melonie Diaz and Octavia Spencer here.
5) "Philomena" I was lucky enough to meet the real Philomena Lee this year, and found her spirit and her warmth so inspiring. Steve Coogan who also stars, co wrote a wonderful script and Judi Dench plays Philomena with such heart, its hard not to be truly touched by this story of an Irish woman forced to give up her son for adoption.Watch my interview with Steve Coogan here.
6) "Rush" While I knew very little about the world of Formula One, Ron Howard's visceral film got me heart and center depicting one of the sport's greatest rivalries between British driver James Hunt and legendary Austrian Formula One driver, Niki Lauda. Also showed that Aussie actor Chris Hemsworth (as Hunt) can muscle some real acting chops. Watch my interviews with Ron Howard, Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl here.
7) "Before Midnight" I have loved following the romance of Jesse and Celine over the years and so glad director Richard Linklater, and stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy decided to make a third movie, and in my opinion the best, showing the melancholy of a romance in late bloom.Watch my video interviews with Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy and Richard Linklater here.
8) "Blue Jasmine" Cate Blanchett is always good no matter what the role, but this Woody Allen take on a modern day Blanche DuBois showcased Blanchett's incredible talent even more. Also a fine ensemble of supporting players including Sally Hawkins as her sister and a surprisingly good Andrew Dice Cla
9) "20 Feet from Stardom" So many great documentaries this year but this one was one of the best - both joyous and heart breaking as back up singers behind some of the greatest music legends and songs finally get their moment center stage as their stories are told.
10) "The Sapphires" Sadly this joyous Australian film about a true life Aboriginal girl group that entertained troops through the Vietnam war, was for the most part overlooked at the box office here in the US. My interview with director Wayne Blair was my first piece posted on rogerebert.com back in March and I was so thrilled and honored when Roger tweeted about it.
1) "Blue Is the Warmest Color"
3) "The Missing Picture"
4) "Neighbouring Sounds"
5) "I Will Be Murdered"
8) "Before Midnight"
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